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Not forgotten: Salute to 68th anniversary for VJ-Day heroes

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Heroes Return
Release date:
14 8 2013

Jim Clark lay helpless under a relentless barrage of Japanese heavy artillery. Pinned down in shallow ditches his battalion slogged it out for 14 days under the fury of a formidable and desperate enemy. Those that could, slipped back into the Burma jungle, but many were not so lucky.

Jim was just 20-years old and a long way from home in the Kings Liverpool Regiment, Chindits, part of the British 14th Army, ‘The Forgotten Army’.

As we approach the historic anniversary of VJ day (Thursday 15 August) 68 years after the Japanese surrender that finally brought an end to the Second World War, 89 year old Jim from Kettering in Northants is one of many World War II veterans who are applying for funding for a second commemorative trip under the Big Lottery Fund’s extended Heroes Return 2 programme.

Heroes Return has awarded over £26.6 million to more than 54,000 Second World War veterans, widows, spouses and carers across the country for journeys in the UK, France, Germany, the Middle East, Far East and beyond.

Peter Ainsworth Chair of the Big Lottery Fund, said: “As we commemorate the 68th anniversary of VJ day we are proud to remember and honour the immense debt of gratitude owed to those brave veterans who endured the horrors of the Far East conflict, and whose courage and sacrifice finally brought an end to a war that cost over 60 million lives across the world.”

Jim was working as an apprentice grocer in his home town of Euston, Suffolk, when he received his call up papers in December 1942. Aged 18,  he joined the Royal Suffolk Home Guards, and underwent a six week motor training course on driving and maintenance before joining the Royal Norfolk Regiment at rank of Private.

He recalls: “We went up to Lincolnshire and from there were sent for battle training up on the Yorkshire Moors. We were subject to live ammunition. It was a hairy experience. We had artillery guns firing 25 pound shells over our heads. I don’t think we really realised what we were doing, it was all in a day’s work.”

After a short spell of embarkation leave, Jim’s regiment was sent to Liverpool where they boarded a Dutch cargo boat destined for Bombay via the Mediterranean and Suez.

He said, “We had no idea where we were going. We knew it was somewhere warm because we had tropical kit.”

Landing in Bombay the regiment then endured the 150 mile week-long train journey to Deolali transit camp, nicknamed ‘Doolally’: notorious for its unpleasant environment and its psychological effect, known as the ‘Doolally tap’, suffered by the soldiers who passed through it.

Moved on to a training camp in Jhansi, Jim was transferred to the Kings Regiment, (Liverpool) to become part of the Chindits, a special force of British, Gurkha and Burma regiments assembled by renowned British Army Officer Orde Wingate to develop and carry out guerilla warfare and long range penetration deep behind Japanese lines.

He remembers: “One day an officer came round asking who could drive. I put my hand up and then he said, ‘Right, look after this mule’.  We were starting jungle training and the only forms of transport were mules or ponies. We called her Peggy and my job was to look after her and feed her. She followed me around everywhere.”

Planning operations for a campaign in Burma the Chindits received a flying visit from the legendary Wingate while training in Assam. Jim recalls, “Wingate came up to me and said ‘you look very well, the food here must be good!’”

However, soon after, 41-year-old Wingate was killed when his American-flown bomber crashed into the jungle.

On March 6th 1944 as part of the Chindits second campaign Operation Thursday, Jim was duly landed 150 miles deep inside enemy lines. The aim of the campaign was to land 10,000 men, 1,000 mules, equipment and supplies into clearings in the heart of Burma: a type of operation that had never been attempted before. The designated landing sites were dubbed Piccadilly, Broadway and Chowringhee, named after famous roads in London, New York and Calcutta.

Jim recalls, “We landed at ‘Broadway’. We should have landed at ‘Piccadilly’ but there were trees laid across the runway strip so we thought that the Japanese had rumbled something was going on. We landed ok. We were in Dakotas. The gliders had gone in to ‘Broadway’ the day before to prepare the way and quite a few had crashed and been killed.”

“We didn’t go looking for the Japanese. Our job was to blow up bridges and railways, and stop supplies getting through to the Japanese Army. At night we would usually camp near a stream which we would use in three sections, one for our drinking water, one for the animals, and another for washing. We just dug a trench for latrines.

“We would set up Bivouacs and camp in a huge circle. I was lucky. I was in the centre protected by others as part of my job was to be on hand to the commanding officer which included looking after his mule. All the mules had their voice boxes removed so that they couldn’t give away our positions to the enemy. Some of them could still manage a squeak but not much more than that. We had local Burmese as guides and when we moved on each morning they would cover the trail with leaves.” 

“There was a good feeling of camaraderie between us. We lived on American K-rations three times a day, dry food mainly, not very good. We slept on ground sheets and had ointment we rubbed into our skin to keep the mosquitoes away. A lot of troops got sick from malaria but I didn’t catch it.”

After a couple of months, Jim found himself caught up in the violent struggle to support the Indian Army 111 Brigade in their defence of ‘Blackpool’ a new allied stronghold precariously close to the Japanese northern front. Set up to block the main Burma railway and road between Mandalay and Myitkyina, cutting off a vital enemy supply line, their position had been attacked by Japanese troops with heavy artillery support.

The brigade fought off the first attack but after 17 days of continual combat the Japanese launched a second assault capturing key positions inside the allied stronghold. Those who were injured beyond recovery and could not be moved, were shot by the battalion medical orderlies and hidden in heavy stands of bamboo.

Jim recalls: “It was dreadful. We lay in holes day and night for nearly two weeks as the Japanese bombarded us with shells. We started to retreat. We were surrounded and were told to make our way back towards India. A lot of our mates were killed. We had to leave them behind in the jungle. Later we came across six Gurkhas who had been killed and we put them into a central grave.

Crippled by a knee injury and with suspected diphtheria, Jim was sent to a hospital in Shillong, Assam and after a period of leave rejoined his battalion. Making ready to travel back to Burma Jim was in Dehradun, northern India when he heard the news of the atom bomb on August 15th 1945.

He said: “The day after we had a victory parade. We got dressed up in our best uniforms and marched through the streets. ”

After spending a year serving in India during the unrest and lead up to partition, Jim finally sailed home to England on the P&O troop ship Orontes in autumn 1946.

Jim will be travelling on a Heroes Return 2 grant to the National Arboretum where along with old comrades he will visit the Chindit memorial as part of a special 68th anniversary commemoration. Jim who also hopes to return to Burma next year said, “The lottery funding has made such a difference.”

“Looking back I was very lucky. I made a lot of friends but a lot of them didn’t make it.”

The Big Lottery Fund has extended its Heroes Return 2 programme to enable veterans to apply for funding to make second trips. The programme deadline for closure will now be end of 2015. This will ensure Second World War veterans from the UK, Channel Islands and Republic of Ireland who have already been funded since the programme opened in 2009, will have a second opportunity to apply for a grant towards travel and accommodation expenses to enable them to make trips back to places across the world where they served, or make a commemorative visit in the UK. For details contact: Heroes Return helpline:  0845 00 00 121 or visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/heroesreturn

Further information

Big Lottery Fund Press Office: 020 7211 1888
Out of hours media contact:    07867 500 572
Full details of the Big Lottery Fund programmes and grant awards are available on the website: www.biglotteryfund.org.uk

Ask BIG a question here: https://ask.biglotteryfund.org.uk

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Notes to editors

  • The Big Lottery Fund, the largest distributor of National Lottery good cause funding, is responsible for giving out 40% of the money raised for good causes by the National Lottery.
  • The Fund is committed to bringing real improvements to communities and the lives of people most in need and has been rolling out grants to health, education, environment and charitable causes across the UK. Since its inception in 2004 we have awarded close to £6bn.
  • The Fund was formally established by Parliament on 1 December 2006.
  • Since the National Lottery began in 1994, 28p from every pound spent by the public has gone to good causes. As a result, over £30 billion has now been raised and more than 400,000 grants awarded across arts, sport, heritage, charities, health, education and the environment.